Once upon a time, I was a preschool teacher. And then I wasn't.
I can blame everything under the sun: large classrooms, low pay, mean parents, difficult children, unsupportive administration. At the end of the day, my dream job became a nightmare. I started crying before I went to work, crying after I got home from work -- sometimes even during work. I tried everything I could to keep on "fighting the good fight": teacher workshops, tai chi, yoga, long vacations... but, truly, nothing was going to change the fact that I had burned out and that this job wasn't for me anymore. I finished out my last year, said goodbye to everything, and retreated back home.
I didn't realize just how bad the burnout was until a week later, when I tried to go on the job search sites and found myself repeatedly having visceral reactions. At best, I would get repulsed and immediately stop the search. At worst, I would get sick to my stomach and spend the rest of the day numbly watching TV. The after effects were so intense that, even a month later, when my own tai chi instructor emailed me about an opportunity to teach tai chi at a yoga studio, I had to prepare myself as if I were about to go skydiving or base jumping. I had to quell the part of me that never wanted to get invested in any type of career field ever again and talk with the owner and go to the interview and have my demo class.
Within weeks, I knew I had made the right decision. Preschool teaching was out, but teaching adults the very same calming techniques that I had so desperately clung to was definitely in. This eventually evolved into enrolling in a yoga teacher training, so I could become a registered yoga teacher and give back just a little bit of what yoga had given to me.
I would tell people about my background in education, and how I was transitioning into tai chi and yoga teaching, and I would get met with the same response:
"You could totally teach tai chi/yoga to children!"
Everyone, from friends, to family, to the studio and dojo owners I would talk with in regards to setting up a class, has offered that bit of advice. And, each time, I had to swallow down that visceral, nauseous feeling in my stomach.
I would smile and nod and maybe reply back with a, "We'll see." Because -- how could I explain to them how I felt? How could I even explain to myself how I felt. Up until last year, I swore that working with groups of children was tailor made for me. I had been babysitting since I was 12, volunteering in the nursery room at my hometown's church since I was 14. I had my student-teaching at an incredible preschool in Boston and even noted to one of my supervising teachers that it didn't even feel like I was going to work, the job was that natural to me. I would tell people I taught preschool and get met with a, "You totally look like a preschool teacher!" That was me, that was how I defined me, and now that was gone. Gone to the point that I had to suppress a grimace when the mention of even being in the same room as a large group children came up.
The topic of training to teach children's yoga came up during my last RYT training session. Everyone talked about that particular training and the yoga instructor who runs it and how excited they were to potentially sign up for it. I sat with my knees to my chest and smiled, thinking, "Pay no attention to the monster over here who would rather jump out a window than teach children again." The instructor facilitating the training mentioned how she had done the training as well and how, after she did her practicum, realized that teaching yoga to young children was just not for her. It took every ounce of my self-control not to immediately shout out, "Oh thank God," in some weird form of relief. The instructor then went on to talk about potential life changes and offered everyone a chance to talk about the changes they wanted to see this year. I kept silent, because I knew I ran the risk of crying if I had even attempted to put in my two cents.
Technically, my big life change was last year. But the change for this year includes not feeling guilt over burning out. Yoga is all about accepting who you are without judgment, letting go of those expectations of what you or other people think you should or shouldn't be doing. And that means accepting that the part of me that got a thrill from singing out the alphabet song to a group of 3-year-olds has been affected by the realities of life. It means understanding that the energy of a room changes when you shift from a group of adults to a group of kids, and that it's okay to gravitate to one while avoiding the other. You do exactly what you need to do in order to live out your life properly and you follow exactly what you need to follow in order to properly give back to the world. You have to do what feels right, what feels authentic, and what feels healthy. And there's nothing healthy about trying to lead a group of children when your knee jerk response is to run off and dry heave.
In short: I'm a former preschool teacher turning tai chi and (soon to be) yoga instructor -- and I won't feel guilty about not teaching children's tai chi or yoga.